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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Missing Christopher Hitchens



Some days I just deeply miss Christopher Hitchens. Of the so-called "New Atheists" he was by far my favorite. Unlike the rest of the Four Horsemen, to which he was lumped in with, he was the only true polymath. Richard Dawkins was the science expert, Sam Harris was the rhetorician, Daniel C. Dennett was the philosopher, but none of them could hold a candle to Hitchens and his brilliance, his eloquence, and his charming roguishness. 

There are many reasons I loved "The Hitch." I loved his contrarian attitude, I loved how he dominated a discourse and would talk over talking heads to stress a point. I love the fact that he never backed down from his position in a discussion. I loved how he had the British way of taking the piss out of our American sentiments, and I loved that he could do it with bravado and with great tenacity. 

Like the whiskey he so loved, Christopher Hitchens was extremely charismatic and always went down smooth. But many couldn't handle him and found, just like the liquor, he burned too much to be palatable. But I for one grew to prefer Hitchens to all the rest of the atheist orators and debaters and his domineering presence and boldness added to his particular appeal. 

I don't think he'll likely be ever be replaced. At least not in my lifetime. I doubt anyone will be able to match his appeal, but at least we are lucky enough to live in an age where his videos and writing can be easily accessible. 

Although I didn't agree with Hitchens on every point he ever made, I really liked the way he spoke and the way he phrased things. I felt that, more than once, he really articulated what I was thinking or feeling in such a way that made me want to repeat it to everyone because I knew I could never say it better than he did. 

Perhaps my favorite Christopher Hitchens moment was when he dropped the "F" bomb during a live interview on a Christian radio show. I forget the name of the show, but during a discussion on morality they had asked him a personal question about his sex life, something along the lines of whether or not he'd ever cheated on his wife, and he flat out said, "That's none of your fucking business."

His sudden use of the word, on a family Christian radio show, left the host speechless. After an awkward silence, the host fumbled for what to say next as he simultaneously tried to change the subject while apologizing to his listeners.


It was awesome.


And the thing was...Christopher Hitchens was right. It was none of their fucking business. 


Ever since that moment, I knew Hitchens and I were kindred spirits. 


Do you have a favorite Christopher Hitchens moment? If so, feel free to share it in the comments section below. Cheers!

Funny Image



I found this image online searching for quotes to share for the (infrequent) quote of the day (I know it's an oxymoron, whatever). It made me laugh for a few reasons. 

First, I have a lot of uber religious family and friends. I grew up extremely religious and I see such Jesus posts all the time followed by calls for prayers or a thousand and one needless amens for trivial things. 

I see posts in my Facebook feed daily saying things like: Jesus lives! God is good! God is real! God is faithful! God heals! and many more followed by amens ad absurdum.

And, like the picture alludes to, I have had people outraged by my irreligious or anti-theists posts. I mean, if you don't like my personal views you don't have to read the whole thing, get irate over it, leave a nasty comment, and then threaten to block me. How about not read it if it bothers you so much?

Or, better yet, if you are worried about finding differing points of view...for Pete's sake... don't bother going on the Internet!

That's just basic common sense.

Anyway, hope you all get a kick out of it too.

Quote of the Day: Eddie Izzard

One of my favorite Eddie Izzard shticks about religion.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

Randal Rauser Implores Christians and Atheist to Engage in Civil Discourse, Cannot Seem to Follow His Own Advice



Admittedly, I thought I was done talking about Randal Rauser. In all honestly, I tried really hard to wash my hands of Randal's nonsense. But sometimes a person just does something so shocking, so unbelievable, that you have no choice but to comment on it.

For those that haven't heard, he's released a new book imploring Christian and Atheist alike to engage in civil discussion and express a more charitable behavior toward one another.

Those familiar with Randal Rauser and his blog might find this ironic, if not highly amusing, since Randal has a very poor track record when it comes to civil and charitable discourse. Mike D., aka The A-Unicornist, now writing exclusively at his new blog the Mind of Mike D, has written a nice summary (click HERE) of Randal's condescending attitude and his general dismissal of other people's intelligent responses, often calling them ignorant, or implying they are, in the most condescending fashion imaginable.

In Randal's new book, Is the Atheist My Neighbor?, he recounts anecdotal stories regarding atheists as told by Christians in various fields, from the layman to the apologists and the preachers, of which Randal analyses and claims that there is a tendency for Christians to be uncivil and uncharitable toward atheists.

Indeed, in the so-called "Great Debate" and the passion driven discourse regarding personal conviction strong emotions fueled by conviction often cuts both ways, and atheists can be found being acerbic, uncivil, and uncharitable to believers as well. In the realm of ideas, where people's convictions run strong, it is often difficult to divorce ourselves from our feelings of what we strongly believe or disbelieve. I think Randal's call to better civility and charitable behavior is a good one, but it also rings hypocritical.

You see, Randal has a poor track record when it comes to being civil or charitable himself, especially toward atheists who might strongly disagree with him.

I've written about my own encounters with Randal before, documenting the times when Randal has called me names, such as "nasty," "puerile," "vindictive," and said that I wasn't a "charitable" person, even though there is nothing to indicate that I had ever been less than charitable to him (albeit the one time I was less than cordial, I apologized for it. I documented parts of the discussion which can be read HERE).

Looking back, I find it strange that the comment that actually got me banned had nothing to do with the so-called insult Randal said I had lobbed at him, and which, upon closer inspection, could barely be considered an insult at all. 

At the time, Randal had thrown a small tantrum because a critic of his book about Heaven had claimed he made some stuff up. After Randal blew a gasket and called his critic "ignorant" and a "troll" (you can read the details HEREI jumped in to point out that Randal was acting overly defensive for what seemed a non-issue, and I said it seemed as though he was acting butt-hurt for no good reason. Randal took offense by this and said I was attacking him personally. I wasn't.

You see, I wasn't commenting on Randal's personality but rather, his behavior. There is a difference, after all. For example, saying that a person is acting as though they might be drunk, and wondering why, is not the same as calling them a drunkard in an attempt to belittle them in anyway. Likewise, saying a person is acting in a hypocritical way, and wondering why, doesn't mean you are calling them a hypocrite simply to belittle them. So when I said Randal was acting butt-hurt, and wondering why, he thought I was attacking him personally just to be mean. And even though I expressed that my intent was never to merely belittle him but point out an inconsistency found in his behavior, Randal seems to have completely ignored this.

Consequently, despite my best efforts to lay the issue to rest, Randal went on to claim my character was "vindictive," "puerile," and said that I'm generally a "mean" person. After which, I called Randal "the consummate unprofessional" because I've never met a professional scholar, serious about educating those who genuinely might be ignorant, or who is serious about pressing philosophical issues, turn right around to neglect to consistently adhere to a civil and charitable discourse.  

The comment that actually got me banned was when I sarcastically pointed out that Randal claimed a fellow PhD was "just a troll" (Randal's exact words, mind you), and I pointed out how this way of marginalizing someone trying to engage in a serious philosophical discourse wasn't charitable behavior coming from Randal. Yup. That's the comment what got me banned. I documented it and you can see the screen-caps of the comments HERE.

That's right. I got banned because I pointed out that Randal was being uncharitable, and as a consequence not adding any to the conversation, and so he claimed that I wasn't adding to the conversation, by going off topic, and this was his reason for why he banned me. Do you see why that might just be a tad bit hypocritical?

Of course, it goes without saying that you can't ask others to have a meaningful conversation then shut down the discourse every time they might disagree with you. That is clearly hypocritical. Calling them "ignorant" or "just a troll" or "vindictive and puerile" without any evidence to back these claims up, thereby marginalizing their point of view by talking down to them and demeaning them, by treating them as less intelligent than you (regardless of whether this may be the case), is simply bigoted.

Personally, I have no time for people who act like this and treat others this way. Marginalizing others when you disagree with them is just poor sport, and although I have often disagreed with Christians and atheists alike, I have tried my best not to belittle them or call them "just a troll," "ignorant," "vindictive and puerile," simply because I disagreed with them. If I ever called anybody anything less than flattering, such as "butt-hurt," then I had a very good reason for doing so. But it appears the only reason Randal requires is if he doesn't like you. 

After all was said and done, I realized Randal didn't actually care about having a civil or charitable discourse with anyone who had a different point of view than his. Not really.

Furthermore, Randal didn't do himself any favors by flame baiting his interlocutors with condescension and insults only to use their defensiveness as an excuse to ban them for, in his opinion, not adding to the conversation. 

Personally, I don't find this type of abusive behavior acceptable, not in the real world and certainly not online in forums where we are trying to engage in serious philosophical and theological discourse. When I was the moderator of an art forumn, flame baiting people into a heated argument was the quickest way to get you banned. Yet it is a tactic Randal employs regularly so he can ban people he disagrees with.

So, I said to hell with Randal Rauser. He's not worth my time. In fact, I have spent more than enough time debating with him and putting up with his overall rudeness, and I was happy to wash my hands of him.

But now...well, now it appears Randal has written a book calling Christians and atheists to be more charitable to one another.

No lie.

After I laughed long and hard about the irony of that, I decided to write one last comment on Randal Rauser and his hypocritical tendencies. You see, I can't just idly sit by and let Randal lecture others on what it means to be civil and charitable to one another when he has proved, time and again, that he cannot seem to follow his own advice.

In the end, I think Randal's behavior and words speak for themselves. And that's all I'm going to say on the subject.



Friday, August 14, 2015

Moral Landscape: Peaks and Valleys -- Using Cost Benefit Analysis to Objectively Identify Good and Bad Moral Value Judgments



Whatever you may think of Sam Harris, good or bad, he once made an excellent point regarding moral value judgement and morality.

Although I don't remember his wording precisely, Sam once asked the question to the effect that "Can we objectively say that Western Christian husbands treat their wives on average better than Middle Easter Muslim men?"

He went on to say because of certainly cultural and religious norms which exist in each society, it is fairly easy to weigh the costs and benefits to the woman and say, yes, that generally speaking -- we can find objective reasons to say that Western Christian husbands treat their wives better than Middle Easter Muslim men (again, this is a broad generalization based on a basic, even simplistic, understanding of the two culture norms given in this example).

Sam takes this thought experiment further and then asks us, and I'm paraphrasing here, to consider that fact that "Having weighed the pros and cons to the woman in each particular marriage, can we say, with any certainty, that there may be objective reasons to believe Western Christian husbands love their wives more than Middle Eastern Muslim men?"

Although Sam leaves it up to us decide, I think his point is well taken.

I too have come to the conclusion that -- yes, there are objective reasons to believe that Western Christian men, for example, do love their wives more than Middle Easter men, all things being equal (i.e., this means equal income, societal status, education, etc.).

This, of course, doesn't mean there aren't exceptions to the generalization (which is why when basing a value judgment on a general and broad observation / information that isn't overtly specific we tend to call it a general rule of thumb rather than an absolute one, because we have to make room for the possible exceptions to the rule. Our conclusions could only ever be tentative at best).

Simply put, given the overall sum of married couples, if such a survey was ever conducted, I'm sure we could find good Muslim husbands who love their wives just as much as any Christian husband, if not more, and bad Christian husbands who mistreat and abuse their wives in an unloving fashion on the same level as an abusive Muslim husband.

Naturally, it really does come down to how we as a society define love. But, then, when looking at various societies, we may be able to make specific observations of the similarities and differences, and accounting for these, we could talk about what it means to love as a human being.

In the broad sense of the term, as I am familiar with it, to love someone means to treat them as you would want to be treated yourself, to never hold them back, to always support them as individuals and support whatever it is they want to do, because you want to share in the burden with them, not place them under any unnecessary strain by shifting an unfair share of the burdens onto them.

All this on top of admiring them, even their quirks and faults, to the point where you practically venerate them as the ideal person -- and never wish them to be any less than that -- and would sacrifice anything in your own life to help them achieve their best, then I would say this is a good indicator that you genuinely love that person.

Now if the opposite seems to be the case. If you treat them unfairly, or allow others to, if you hold them back, do not support them when they want to strive toward their own individual goals, if you force them to adhere to some kind of social, cultural, or religious norm, if you place an unfair amount of your everyday burdens on them and expect them to pick up the slack and then turn around and berate or punish them if they fail to do so, then it is not love you have for that person. There is no kind of love we know of on the planet that looks like that.

Love isn't without responsibility. In essence, you are taking the responsibility to care for another person more than you care for others, including yourself (at least to a degree) and this selflessness is one part of our expression of love.

The irresponsible person takes love for granted, and thinks they can act, say, or treat their partner in anyway they deem fit, and that because they love them -- well -- that person should love them in return. But this isn't love. This is the lust for power over someone you are infatuated with, so you say it is love and then take up the role of an abuser. This is how we know a man who habitually abuses his wife doesn't love her, and vise versa. In other words, if the person has taken zero responsibility for their partner's well being and flourishing, then they don't know the first thing about love.

But all this is just to say, it does appear that when we place love on a scale, and then map that scale onto the terrain of everyday life, then we can and do make various value judgments on what we, as human beings, consider good and bad examples of love to be.

And the good examples of love will be found on the peaks, and the bad examples will be found in the valleys. And the moral judgments we make can be objectively had by simply doing a cost benefit analysis between these various examples of love.

This way, we can objectively say, that when man beats his wife according to some cultural/social/religious prescription or dictate, or, likewise, because she failed to abide by some cultural/social/religious prescription or dictate, then this man loves his wife LESS than the man who does not harm her for these same reasons by simply weighing the costs and benefits of each kind of love.

This kind of cost benefit analysis of all moral considerations creates a very complex moral landscape which we must traverse and navigate like interpreted explorers. One reason, is simply because such exploration has typically been limited to the valley of whatever cultural/religious/ or social norm has dominated the moral discussion.

But it does not mean because one model is the most ubiquitous, prevalent, popular, or even most liked that it is any good. It could very well be the worst kind of example, but we simply would not know it because we weren't aware of any other examples.

What this means is that more data will always improve our understanding of the terrain. Less data shrinks the map to the point where, if you only have enough data to adjudicate two competing models, then you still will end up with a limited view.

As with the above example given by Sam Harris, although it illustrates quite well that we can pass moral value judgments on two competing moral claims, it does not necessarily mean that either of those examples represent the best possible moral outcome.

In the case of asking ourselves whether a typical Western Christian husband loves his wife more than a stereotypical Middle Eastern Muslim man, given more data and an improved understanding of the moral landscape, we might conclude that, actually, neither are very good examples of love. We might find, for example, that your average secular husband loves his wife more than either of the previous examples. And this we could argue is a superior kind of love.

This is why I say there are objectively examples to be discovered, even if there is no absolute or ideal example.

Yet we can never know every detail about love and the various kinds of love absolutely unless we had all of the data in the known universe, and that doesn't seem very likely. So, we can only have a limited sort of view. Sort of like how the person who stands on the mountain peak can only see as far as the horizon. But that doesn't mean the horizon is the end, or because you see no other mountains taller than the one you are perched on that there aren't taller ones just beyond your scope.

In fact, I would go as far to say that the mountain climber and explorer analogy is an apt one, because we cannot simply expect to settle for one point on the moral landscape until we have at least explored as many possible areas and mapped out that moral landscape to our best ability, and even then we still must to be willing to change our minds and amend our reasoning when we find our current moral beliefs inadequate. Because there may always be another Everest to climb just beyond the horizon.


Peter Boghossian on Changing Minds (Video)

"We (as atheists) have too often gone down the road of incivility, and that's helped no one."

"The average church goer has never even heard of William Lane Craig. William Lane Craig is irrelevant. The people who are relevant are the people in the pews."

Some great quotes and thoughts by American philosopher Peter Boghossian.




Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Street Epistemology...What is it?



There is a video by Christian apologists Tom Gilson and Timothy McGrew going around that claims that Peter Boghossian's concept of Street Epistemology, is a way to manipulate unphilosophical minded Christians by creating a fog of confusion to derail their faith.

Now, for those that might not be familiar with Boghossian's concept, which he details in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists, he basically applies the non-confrontational method of asking questions in the Socratic style (known as the Socratic method of dialog) to carry the conversation via having their conversation partner answer very basic questions themselves.

In so doing, the point is to get them to think about the questions and express, in their own words, what they believe. It is a way to unravel the mysteries of their faith and reveal the types of thoughts and thought processes that go into making up a persons faith. It has proved to be very effective.

But Gilsona dn McGrew seem to not fully grasp it, and they go out of there way to misrepresent Street Epistemology and Peter Boghossian.

 Of course, this being the 21st century with YouTube and the Internet and what not, there is a video floating around that takes Gilson and McGrew's wildly inaccurate portrayal of Boghossian's methods by contrasting their comments and criticisms against actually video of a person doing real Street Epistemology according to how it was outlined in Boghossian's book A Mannual for Creating Atheists.

Needless to say, the video is quite revealing.



It shows how much Christian apologists are willing to distort and smear a genuine philosophy they disagree with because they perceive it to be a danger to their faith.

It seems they might want to take notes from another one of Bogghosian's methods, however, the one where he calls for people to attempt to be more authentic, not only with others, but with themselves as well. By being more authentic, and genuine, such distortion and smear tactics as employed by Gilson and McGrew simply wouldn't be necessary. And so a person of faith could move past such apologetic tricks and grapple with the real important questions regarding their faith head on.

Of course, being a skeptic, a freethinker, and an atheist (among other things), I can honestly say that I think Street Epistemology is a good idea. But I'll let you decide for yourselves.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist